Quick & Easy Mortises

Video - June 15, 2017

Yesterday, a member of our Guild Facebook group described some difficulty they were having making mortises with a hand-held router. This is something I do quite frequently and the person jested that I make it look too easy. Like anything, making mortises gets easier with practice but I believe anyone can find success with this particular process if they just follow some simple guidelines. So I decided to whip up a quick video that breaks it all down. And because I can’t stand when people/companies create acronyms and then force words into them, I’m proud to bring you LTBD (pronounced ltbd).


Without proper layout, you won’t know where the mortise is supposed to go and you won’t be able to set up your router properly. So I always fully layout one of each size mortise I need in my projects. If there’s more than one of a particular mortise, I only lay out start and stop lines since my edge guide holds the router a specific distance in from the edge.


I recommend a decent plunge router, an edge guide, and a nice sharp up-spiral bit. Here’s the bit I used in this demo.
Unfortunately, not every router manufacturer makes an edge guide, but common brands like Bosch, DeWalt, Festool, and Porter Cable have them available. There are also after-market edge-guides available like this one from Milescraft.

The router I used is the Bosch MRC23EVSK.


The narrower the workpiece, the more difficult it will be to balance the router. So it’s a good idea to double up or even triple up on your workpieces to provide extra base support. I often offset the support piece so it not only prevents the router from tipping side to side, but also provides additional support front to back (especially hand for mortises that are near the end of a workpiece).


Although mortise routing involves surrounding the bit with wood, you should still pay attention to your router direction. I recommend pushing the router away from you moving left to right. This keeps the router moving against the rotation of the bit and should yield a better cut, as the router tends to pull into the work keeping the fence tight against the workpiece.

If you follow LTBD, there will be very few workpieces you can’t safely and accurately route a mortise into. Get some practice with this technique and before you know it, you’ll be mortising everything!